If you remember four weeks into the NFL season, there was a poll of who was the worst undefeated team remaining in the league. The Carolina Panthers were voted as such, and the fans wouldn’t let anyone forget it, mainly because the Panthers were the final remaining undefeated team before losing to the Falcons in Week 16 at Atlanta, their only loss of 2015.
The Carolina Panthers played the sixth-easiest schedule in NFL, marked back in February of last year, and only four teams the Panthers faced this season ended up in the playoffs, including the mediocre divisional champion Texans and Redskins. This should not go without saying the mountains overcome by the Panthers, such as no wide receiver depth and beating the Seahawks twice, a powerhouse who have reigned in the NFC for years now.
But is it fair of me to say that Carolina’s not the “most disrespected” team in the NFL, but it’s the team standing in Carolina’s way of the Super Bowl, the Arizona Cardinals?
Let me begin by saying, the Panthers have had a lot of attention through the media. Whether it’s their off-field antics like dancing and “dabbing”, or on the field with Cam Newton’s MVP cries and the gawks at the defense, they’ve been in the headlines quite a bit. For me to convince you of a fair point, you will need to realize that the Panthers haven’t been “under the radar” since October, because they’ve been a popular social topic on sports websites and talk shows.
Now let me introduce you to the Arizona Cardinals, the second-seed of the National Football Conference, and a team who finished 13-3 as a NFC West team, two of those losses coming against their foes. The Cardinals, much like the Panthers, beat a NFC powerhouse of the past in the Green Bay Packers, owning them by 30 points in the regular season, and less than a month later ending their season in the playoffs. The one thing that separates the Cardinals and Panthers is Arizona’s strength of schedule ranked as the fifth-toughest back in February, as well as five teams they faced made the playoffs this season, one of them played twice is the Seattle Seahawks.
One of the more underrated players on Arizona is, at all positions, their quarterback. Carson Palmer was 4th in the league in passing yardage this year, to Cam Newton being 16th. Carson Palmer was tied second with several players, Cam Newton included, with 35 passing touchdowns. Palmer completed 63.7% of his throws this season, when Cam Newton was near the bottom of the league with a 59.8 completion percentage. Should I mention Carson Palmer’s passer rating (104.6) was better than Cam Newton’s (99.4)?
When we look as a whole, the Carolina Panthers offense led by “MVP candidate” Cam Newton ranks outside the top ten in total offense, but grant it league-best in PPG. The Arizona Cardinals however are right behind the Panthers, trailing by less than a point averaged, but they’re number one in the league in total offense. The same story by the defense, as the Panthers have given up 0.3 less points per game than the Cardinals defense, but the Cardinals have given up less yards than Carolina’s defense, and the Cardinals are a top-5 defense in that aspect.
I’d bet safely knowing you likely weren’t made aware of how similar the Cardinals and Panthers are, and in some instances, Arizona’s better than Carolina in many categories. But who could blame you? All anyone wants to talk about are the Carolina Panthers, and though they deserve to be one of the four teams to likely hoist the Lombardi trophy in San Fransisco, they aren’t a lock for Super Bowl 50, let alone the winners of it. Arizona is a legitimate challenge for the NFC South champions, and I’d say on a neutral field in fair conditions, I’d favor the Cardinals by a touchdown.
These two teams meet Sunday, 6:40 time in Charlotte, where the game will be played in cold, cold weather, while a west-coast Cardinals team travels across the country while the east coast is currently undergoing “Snowmaggedon”. If the Panthers win this Sunday, they deserve a trip across the country to Super Bowl 50, by beating their toughest task all season.
If I had to give one final message to football fans out there… Don’t disrespect the Arizona Cardinals!